Site for Terror Trial Isn’t Its Only Obstacle
For much of President Obama’s first year in office, his national security team worked to devise a secure plan to send dozens of Yemeni detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the largest single group at the prison camp — home to Yemen, perhaps to a rehabilitation program.
Then came the Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt, which was planned in Yemen, and the president put all transfers there on hold.
Since November, the administration had been preparing to move the highest-profile Guantánamo prisoners — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four accomplices accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — to Manhattan for a federal criminal trial.
[The administration may have] to revive the very option that the president and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had rejected: military commissions at Guantánamo for the 9/11 plotters.
For a president who campaigned on a promise to close Guantánamo, and who just missed a self-imposed one-year deadline to get the job done, the meltdown of a potential Manhattan 9/11 trial is the latest measure of the stubborn complexity of his national security inheritance.
For some who have always advocated military commissions for the 9/11 plotters, the demise of the Manhattan plan simply proved their point. “It just shows what a dumb idea it was in the first place,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, in an interview Thursday.
Mr. Graham plans to reintroduce legislation in a few days to block criminal trials for the 9/11 suspects altogether. A similar bill is already pending in the House. Two Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia, joined several Republican colleagues last week in coming out against criminal trials for the Qaeda plotters, raising opponents’ hopes that Congress could make the hunt for a new 9/11 courthouse moot.
“The attacks of 9/11 were acts of war, and those who planned and carried out those attacks are war criminals,” the group of six senators wrote in a letter to the attorney general. They said that any American venue for a trial would become a terrorist target, and that military commissions were the proper way to bring terrorists to justice.